Babette’s feast has been one of my favorite movie ever since I watched it six or seven years ago. It is all about food and how a seven course meal can create superb delight at cognitive and emotional level. This paper offers Babette’s feast as a parable of offering customer a great sensory experience leading to a superlative delight.

The Context: This 1987 Best Foreign Language Academy award winner based on a short story by Isak Dinesen, takes us through a beautiful narrative set in 19th century Denmark… a cold bleak remote seaside village… two sisters, the village elders living an austere life… bored and dissenting inhabitants of the village… and a brilliant chef named Babette. Babette, a French refugee takes care of the sisters Phillippa and Martine and cooks daily for the villagers, a modest and bland gruel. Unbeknownst to the villagers, Babette is the reputed chef of the Parisian restaurant, Café Anglais. As the story goes by, Phillippa and Martine sadly watches the villagers growing intolerant to each other and dwindling in numbers.

The Delightful Journey: When Babette wins 10,000 francs through lottery, she expresses her wish to cook a French dinner for the villagers, now a dozen in number. The sisters perceiving that a now-rich-Babette will be leaving them soon and agrees to her wish, though hesitant. What follows is brilliance. The days leading to the meal is a visual feast of exotic fruits, wines and champagnes, meat and other delicacies. The night of the dinner is approached by the villagers with a lot of skepticism. However, as they walk into the dining room they are invited by a feast where their appetite and senses are filled up. One of the memorable quote from the movie refer to Babette and her meal as, “this chef could turn a dinner into a kind of love affair that made no distinction between bodily appetite and spiritual appetite … she was considered THE greatest culinary genius”. Indeed this sober intoxicating feast leads to epiphanies from the quarrelsome villagers and results in reconciliations amongst, which was affirmed by their singings towards the climax of the story.

The Highlight: Now a delighted Phillippa and Martine approaches Babette, who is totally tired and spent after days and hours of preparation and cooking, to congratulate her and to inquire of her departure plans. Babette confesses that she is going nowhere and every bit of the lottery is spend on this feast… a 10,000 francs worth feast spent on a dozen of villagers. Bewildered, the sisters ask her, “Babette, now you will be poor”. Babette responds, “An artist will never be poor”. The story ends.

The Learnings: Beautiful story. Lot can be interpreted from the story with all its spiritual and physical undertones. What strikes me most are three things and it is very important in customer experience.

One: We know designing customer experience has a science involved. But it is also an art; you bring in the right elements with the right hues, flavors and aromas to affect the customers utilitarian and hedonistic values. Refer to http://bit.ly/1GStu6a. Babette’s meal indeed fills the mundane cravings to nourish the body. However, the harmony of “Potage à la Tortue” served with Amontillado sherry, “Blinis Demidoff” served with Veuve Cliquot champagne, “Cailles en Sarcophage” served with Clos de Vougeot Pinot Noir, an endive salad, “Savarin au Rhum avec des Figues et Fruit Glacée” served with champagne, assorted cheeses and fruits served with sauterne and finally coffee with Louis XIII de Rémy Martin cognac is a delight to ones smell, sight, sound and taste. And this art can be designed and must be designed at a cognitive and emotional level. Think about a company whose product we wait breathlessly… Apple. It is not just the product which is cool and sleek but also the purchase experience in an Apple retail store. Large tables, wide spaces, walls of windows, flexible and mobile check-out stands and very friendly associates all making the customers feel good. When you design your customer experience look through the prisms of both the utilitarian value as well as the hedonistic value of the customer. This also requires a CX team with a robust knowledgebase of its customers need, wants and expectations.

Two: In the movie, two old women who had not spoken with each other for several years now gives a gentle and affectionate peck, saying “God bless you, dear Solveig” and “God bless you, too, dear Anna.” A well designed customer experience can transform people in a dramatic way owing to each touch point becoming positive Moments of Truth. This is a word of high caution as well as encouragement. In this day and age which has spawned customers who are highly demanding, highly emotional, highly hedonistic, highly sophisticated and highly diverse, the swings of moments of truth can be quite dramatic. What control do you have on creating this dramatic swing? One of the credo of Ritz-Carlton is… (to) enlivens the senses, instills well-being, and fulfills even the unexpressed wishes and needs of our guests. You have heard of their policy; every staff is entrusted with 2000 USD on a guest to create a dramatic swing. An interesting story I read, a waiter in Dubai location hears a couple wishing the wife, who was in wheelchair, could get down into the beach. By next afternoon, a wooden walkway was built from the hotel leading to the beach where a tent was set up to serve dinner to the couple.

Three: The designer of this customer journey that integrates emotional and cognitive processes or utilitarian and hedonistic values needs passion. This involves daily keeping the customers first and bringing that extra passion to these designs. This requires a sense of urgency as if they are the only customer and this is the last time you can serve them. One of my favorite Nordstrom story happened in North Carolina where a shopper loses her wedding ring while trying on clothes. The store security joined her in the search and when they came up empty, two additional securities joined the search. They opened all the vacuum cleaners of the store and lo behold is the dazzling diamond ring. When Babette learns she won the lottery, she takes a long walk by the seaside. As she returns her eyes are lit with passion and determination. She is sacrificing an immense fortune and also sacrificing her escape from obscurity. She makes the statement, till the end “An artist is never poor”. Do we lose anything serving our customer? On the contrary, is it not us who is getting enriched?

To summarize,

  • design CX to fill both needs (utilitarian values) and senses (hedonistic values) of customer
  • design CX to create a dramatic positive swing in moments of truth
  • design CX passionately

 

CustomersFirst Now (CFN) has been refining our CX solutions for more than 40 years – working with and for many Fortune 100 companies. We provide the only proven, predictive process that links Customer Delight to financial performance by incorporating and measuring CX Best Practices across all key business disciplines. For more information contact Amit Garg, Data Science Leader, at agarg@customersfirstnow.com.

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